No. 14 Rutgers looks to keep home winning streak alive against No. 19 Brown
In what will be its first ranked matchup of the season, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team is set to take on No. 19 Brown tomorrow afternoon at High Point Solutions Stadium.
The No. 14 Scarlet Knights (4-0) are coming off a short rest period after a Tuesday game against Wagner. The Bears (1-1) will have had a full week to prepare but were recently upset by Stony Brook, giving up an unprecedented 25 goals in a 25-17 defeat that dropped them nine spots from their previous ranking of No. 10.
And despite Rutgers only having three days to prepare, head coach Brian Brecht remains confident in its ability to prepare, mainly because of the way the defense and rope unit have been playing this season.
“It’ll be a short turnaround. (Senior defender Chris) Groel, (junior defender Michael) Rex(rode), (junior defender Alex) Bronzo and (junior goalie) Max (Edelmann), they’ve been great," Brecht said. "(Sophomore long-stick midfielder Kyle) Pless and the rope unit, they prepare well. I have all the confidence in a quick turnaround that they’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
Brecht said that the team’s confidence is very high, and with the Knights coming in at No. 10 in this week’s United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Coaches (USILAC) poll, there is a good reason.
Rutgers is also out to another 4-0 start, hoping to match last year’s 5-0 start with a win over Brown.
“It’s nice to win,” Brecht said. “When you’re 4-0 in the month of February and you’re ranked tenth in the country, I would think confidence is very high.”
But a top-10 ranking does not satisfy Brecht right now. While he admits it is nice to have the ranking, he wants the team to continue its success and maintain a top-10 mark throughout the entire season.
The Knights are not even a third of the way through their season, with five more games before they start conference play. Although the Big Ten currently has three top-five teams in the country, Rutgers conference wins were not enough to get them into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament.
What is the fix? This season’s non-conference schedule is identical to last year’s, except for one team — Brown. The Knights nixed Monmouth for a preseason top-10 team to help boost their resume come postseason.
“Obviously it’s a long season It’s nice being ranked 10th in the country right now, but I want to be ranked 10th in the country when we head into the month of May,” Brecht said. “Obviously this Saturday will go a long way with helping that.”
The Bears are currently first in the country in goals per game, averaging 21, albeit playing just two games.
Regardless, they are a team that made the Final Four in last year’s NCAA Tournament, making their mark as a high-scoring offense to make up for a less-than-stellar defense.
That creates an intriguing matchup, as Rutgers' defense has been one of the best in the country, allowing just 6.5 goals per game, good for fifth in the nation.
Junior defender Michael Rexrode has been one of the main reasonw why they have been so successful, as he nearly single-handedly shut out reigning CAA co-Player of the Year in Fairfield's Colin Burke two games ago.
He trusts the defense’s chemistry and preparation as a unit, as it has been consistently the team’s best unit this year.
“We watch a lot of films together and we do (a) lot of extra work together as a defense,” he said. “I’m confident we’re gonna be up to the challenge. They’re obviously a very high-powered offense, but we're a pretty darn good defense.”
And with Brown ranking 65th in the country with 17 goals allowed per game, it will be an opportunity for the Rutgers offense to regain its stride that has been missing the past two games.
With the potential for lots of goals comes the potential for lots of faceoffs, arguably the most crucial points in lacrosse games.
Junior Joe Francisco has been the guy for the Knights this season and is coming off of a career performance against Wagner in which he won 75 percent of faceoffs he took, one of the main reason as to why the Seahawks did not score a goal in the first half.
“He was over 50 percent, I think the success (Tuesday) is just what we need from him heading into March and having a top-20 team come into High Point (Solutions Stadium) on Saturday,” Brecht said.
Rutgers is no stranger to big home games, with two ranked wins over Johns Hopkins and Maryland last year as well as an upset in the home finale against Ohio State two seasons ago.
That victory over the Buckeyes not only gave the Knights their first-ever Big Ten victory but started a 10-game winning streak at home that Rutgers will look to continue tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
“I don’t lose sleep at all with the energy they’re gonna bring and obviously the preparation they’re gonna give,” Brecht said.